Authors: Erle Stanley Gardner
Tags: #Fiction, #Crime, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Detective and Mystery Stories, #Legal
"Would he have to know anything about it?"
"Then I couldn't get it."
"Then you couldn't get married."
"I could get married, couldn't I? It would be only a question of whether the marriage was legal or illegal."
"You'd have to perjure yourself in order to get a license."
"Well, suppose I perjured myself. What then?"
The lawyer, turning to study her profile, said, "You mentioned something about being followed. I presume you noticed the automobile parked close to the curb behind us?"
"Good God, no!" she said.
She whirled around so that she could look through the rear window, and gave a stifled half-scream.
"My God, it's James!"
"Who is James?"
"My husband's chauffeur."
"That your husband's car?"
"Yes, one of them."
"You think the chauffeur followed you?"
"I know it. I thought I had slipped away from him, but I didn't."
"What do you want to do now; get out?"
"No. Drive around the block and let me out at the house."
"The man in the car behind," Mason said, "knows that you've seen him."
"I can't help that. Please do as I say. Please, at once!"
Mason drove the car around the block. The car which had been parked behind him switched on headlights and followed doggedly. Mason slid the car to the curb in front of Basset's residence, leaned across the woman and opened the door.
"If you want to consult me," he said, "I'll come in."
"No, no!" she half-screamed.
A figure moved from the shadows, stepped up close to the car, and Hartley Basset said, "Did you, by any chance, have a rendezvous with my wife?"
Mason opened the door on his side of the car, got out, crossed around the rear of the car, and stood toe to toe with Hartley Basset. "No," he said, "I didn't."
"Then," Basset said, "my wife must have arranged a meeting. Was she trying to consult you about something?" Mason braced himself, feet wide apart.
"The reason I got out of the car," he said, "and walked over here, was to tell you to mind your own damned business."
The other car which had followed Mason had parked close to the curb. A tall, thin man who walked with a quick, cat-like step, opened the car door, started toward Mason, then, as he heard the tone of Mason's voice, turned back to the car, took something from a side pocket in the door and walked rapidly toward the lawyer, approaching him from the rear. The headlights gleamed on a wrench which he held in his right hand.
The lawyer swung around so that he faced both men. Mrs. Basset ran up the steps to the house, slammed the door shut behind her.
"Do you birds," Mason asked ominously, "want to start something?"
Basset looked over at the tall man with the wrench.
"That's all, James," he said.
Mason stared at them steadily, then said slowly, "You're damn right that's all."
He turned to his own car, slid behind the wheel, and kicked in the clutch. The pair behind him stood watching him, silhouetted against the headlights of the parked car.
The lawyer swung his car into a skidding turn and straightened into swift speed as he hit the main boulevard.
He braked the car to a stop when he came to a drug store, walked to the telephone booth, dialed a number, and, when he heard Bertha McLane's anxious voice said, "It's all off."
"Wouldn't he accept it?"
"What did he want?"
"Something that was impossible."
"What was it?"
"It was impossible."
"But, at least you must tell me what it was."
"He wanted you to pay one hundred dollars a month."
"But I couldn't!"
"That's what I told him. I told him you had a mother to support. He feels that your mother can go on public charity."
"Oh, but I couldn't do that!"
"That's what I told him. Now listen. You make Harry tell you what he's done with the money, and who his accomplice is."
"But Harry won't do it."
"Then let him go to jail."
"Where are you now?"
"At a drug store."
"Near Basset's place?"
"Go back and tell Mr. Basset I'll arrange to get the money some way. I can meet the payments for one or two months at least. By that time, Harry will be working. I have some things I can sell."
"I'll tell Basset nothing of the sort."
"But I want to accept his offer before Harry goes to jail."
"You have until tomorrow afternoon to get some other attorney to act for you."
"You mean you won't represent me?"
"No," Mason said; "not to accept any such offer as that. The only way I'll represent you is for you to let me take your kid brother apart and see what makes him tick. After he comes clean, I'll do the best for you that I can. Otherwise, you get some other lawyer. Don't argue with me over the telephone. Think it over. Give me your answer later."
He banged up the receiver.
The telephone on the stand at his elbow made noise. Mason picked up the receiver and said, "Hello, Mason speaking." He heard a woman's voice, harsh with emotion, spilling words into his ear before he had placed her identity.
"… Come out at once. I'm leaving my husband. He's been guilty of a brutal attack. There's going to be trouble. My son is going to kill him…"
"Who is this talking?" Mason interrupted.
"Sylvia Basset – Hartley Basset's wife."
"What do you want me to do?"
"Come out here just as soon as you can get here."
"It'll keep," the lawyer said, "until morning."
"No; it won't. You don't understand. A woman out here has been seriously injured."
"What's the matter with her?"
"She's been struck over the head."
"Who struck her?"
"Where's your husband?"
"He jumped in a car and ran away. As soon as he comes back, my son, Dick, is going to kill him. There isn't a thing that I can ado to stop it. I want you to I come out and take charge of the case. If my husband I comes back before you get here, Dick will kill him. I want you to explain to Dick that you can protect my interests; that he doesn't need to take the law in his own hands; that…"
"Where are you now?"
"At my home."
"Can you bring your son to me?"
"No, he won't leave. He's furious. I can't do anything with him."
"Have you threatened to call in the police?"
"Because they'd arrest him, and I don't want that and there are other things that would make it very embarrassing for me. Won't you please come out? I can't explain over the phone, but it's life and death. It's…"
"I'll come out," Perry Mason interrupted. "You keep Dick under control until I get there."
He dropped the receiver into place, flung off his smoking jacket and slippers, struggled into coat and shoes, and one minute and thirty seconds later was pressing the throttle of his coupe down against the floor-boards as he charged through the night streets.
Mrs. Basset met him at the door of the house – the one that had been marked as the entrance to the finance company.
"Come in here," she said, "and please talk with Dick as soon as you can."
Perry Mason entered the outer office. A slender youth of twenty-one or twenty-two jerked open the door from the inner office and said, "Look here, Mom, I'm not going to wait…" He broke off as he saw Perry Mason. His hands, which had been extended in front of him, dropped to his sides.
"Dick," she said, "I want you to meet Perry Mason, the lawyer. This is Dick Basset, my son."
The young man stared at Perry Mason with wide, deep, brown eyes. His face was dead-white. The lips of a sensitive, well-formed mouth were clamped into a firm line. Mason extended his hand easily.
"Basset," he said, "I'm glad to know you."
Basset hesitated a moment, regarded Mason's outstretched hand, shifted something from his right hand to his left, and stepped forward.
A small object dropped to the floor. He grabbed Mason's hand, shook it, and said, "Are you representing Mother?"
"She's been through hell," the boy said. "I've kept out of it long enough. Tonight I…"
He stopped as he saw Perry Mason's eyes come to rest on the thing which had dropped to the carpet.
"Cartridge?" Mason asked.
The boy stooped to recover it, but Mason was first. He picked up a.38 cartridge and stared at it speculatively as he held it in his outstretched hand.
"Why the munitions?" he asked.
"That's my business," Basset said.
Mason reached out, grabbed the boy's left hand, pushed the fingers open before young Basset could define his intentions, disclosed several more.38 caliber shells. One cartridge was empty.
"Where's the gun?" he asked.
"Don't try any of that stuff!" Basset flared. "You can't…"
Perry Mason grabbed the young man's shoulder, jerked him forward, spun him around, and, at the same time, slipped an exploring right hand beneath the back of the coat.
Dick Basset tried to struggle, braced himself, and jerked free, but not before Perry Mason had pulled the.38 caliber revolver from the right hip pocket.
Mason broke the gun open. The cylinder was unloaded. He smelled of the muzzle.
"Smells as though it had been fired," he said.
Dick Basset stared at him in white-faced silence. Mrs. Basset jumped forward, wrapped her hands around the gun.
"Oh, please,', she said to Perry Mason. "I wondered where that was. Please give it to me."
Mason kept his hold on the gun.
"What's the idea?" he asked.
"I want it."
"Whose is it?"
"I don't know."
Mason looked at young Basset and said, "Where did you get it?"
Basset remained silent.
Mason shook his head at Mrs. Basset and gently disengaged her hands.
"I think," he said, "it will be safer with me for a while. Now, what's happened?"
She released her hold on the gun reluctantly, and said to the boy, "You show him, Dick."
Dick Basset pulled aside a Japanese screen, disclosing a corner of the room which had been concealed from the lawyer's gaze.
A broad-hipped woman with faded red hair was bending over someone who lay on a dilapidated couch. She didn't look up as the screen was moved, but said over her shoulder, "I think she's going to be all right in a few minutes. Is this the doctor?"
The lawyer walked to one side so that he could look past the red-headed woman, to see the figure which lay on the couch.
She was a brunette in the middle twenties, attired in a dark suit. The blouse had been opened at the neck to disclose the white curve of a throat and breast. Wet towels lay on the couch near her head. A bottle of smelling salts and a small bottle of brandy were nestled in among the wet towels. The red-headed woman was chafing the girl's wrists.
"Who is she?" asked Perry Mason.
Mrs. Basset said slowly, "My daughter-in-law – Dick's wife. But no one knows it yet. She's going under her maiden name."
Dick Basset swung around as though about to say something, but remained silent.
Perry Mason indicated a bruise on the side of the young woman's head.
"My husband struck her."
"I don't know why."
"I don't know. He struck her and then ran out of the house."
"Where did he go?"
"His car was in front. He jumped in it and drove away, going like mad."
"Was the chauffeur with him?"
"No, he was alone in the car."
"Did you see him?"
"Where were you?"
"I saw him from a window in the upper story."
"You know it was his car?"
"Yes. It was his Packard."
"Did he have any bags with him?"
"No, no bags."
The young woman on the couch stirred and moaned.
"She's coming to," the red-headed woman said.
Perry Mason leaned forward. Mrs. Basset stepped to the head of the couch, smoothed back the girl's wet hair, stroked her fingers over the closed eyes, and said, "Hazel, dear, can you hear me?"
The lids fluttered upward, disclosing dark eyes that stared dazedly. The girl retched, moaned and turned to her side.
"She's going to be sick, and then she'll be all right," the older woman said, nodding her head at Sylvia Basset, and turning to stare curiously at Perry Mason.
Perry Mason faced Mrs. Basset.
"Do you want me to take charge of this thing?" he asked.
"In what way?"
"Do you want me to handle it the way I think best?"
Perry Mason stepped to the telephone which was on the battered, cigarette-burnt desk, and said, "Give me police headquarters… Hello, headquarters? This is Richard Basset at 9682 Franklin Street. There's been some trouble out here. I think my father's been drinking, but he's clubbed a woman quite badly…
"Yes, it's my father. We want him arrested, of course. He's crazy. We can't tell what he'll do next. Please send officers at once… Yes, one of the radio cars is all right, only get here at once, because he may kill someone."
Perry Mason dropped the receiver on its hook, stared at Mrs. Basset.
"You," he said, "keep out of it."
He turned to the boy.
"You go ahead and take the initiative in this thing. I gather that you side with your mother, and against your father?"
Mrs. Basset said, "Of course, it will come out during the investigation that Hartley isn't Dick's father."
"He's my son by a – a previous marriage."
"How long have you been married to Hartley Basset?"
Dick Basset said bitterly, "Five years of torture."
The woman on the couch stirred and moaned again. She said something that was unintelligible, then coughed and struggled to a sitting position.
"Where am I?" she asked.
"It's all right, Hazel," Mrs. Basset said. "Everything's going to be all right. There's nothing to worry about. We've got a lawyer here, and the police are coming."
The young woman closed her eyes, sighed, and said, "Oh, let me think – let me think."
Mrs. Basset moved close to Perry Mason.
"Please," she said in an undertone, "let me have the gun. I don't want you to have it."
"Because I think we should hide it."
"You're not supposed to have a gun," Mason told her.
"It isn't mine."
"Suppose the police find it?"
"They won't find it if you'll only give it to me. Please."
Perry Mason pulled the gun from his hip pocket and handed it to her. She dropped it down the front of her dress and held it there with her hand.
"You can't leave it there," Mason said. "If you're going to hide it, go ahead and hide it."
"Wait," she told him. "You don't understand. I'll take care of it…"
Dick Basset, bending tenderly over the young woman on the couch, exclaimed, "Good God!"
The girl opened her eyes. Dick kissed her, and she let one of her arms slide around his neck. She talked with him in a low voice. A moment later Dick Basset gently disengaged her arm, and turned to face them.
"It wasn't Hartley who hit her," he said.
"It must have been," Mrs. Basset insisted. "She must be delirious. I came as far as the outer office with her. I knew Hartley was alone."
Dick Basset said, excitedly, "It wasn't Hartley. Hazel didn't even talk with him. She knocked at that door to Dad's office. There was no answer. She opened the door and the office was empty. She crossed the office and knocked at the door of the inner office. Dad opened the door. Someone was with him. She couldn't see who it was. The man had his back to her. Dad told her he was busy, to go back and sit down.
"She waited almost ten minutes. Then that door opened. A man reached through and turned out the lights. He started to run through the office, saw her, and turned. Light from the inner office struck his face.
"She saw the black mask and the eyes through the black mask. One of the eye sockets was empty. She screamed. He struck at her. She tore off the mask. It was a one-eyed man she'd never seen before in her life. He cursed her and clubbed her with a blackjack. She lost consciousness."
"Only had one eye?" Sylvia Basset cried. "Dick, there's some mistake!" Her voice rose as though with hysteria.
"Only one eye," Dick Basset repeated. "Isn't that right, Hazel?"
The young woman nodded slowly.
"What happened to the mask?" Mason asked.
"She tore it off. It was a paper mask – black paper."
Mason, down on his hands and knees, pulled a sheet of carbon paper from the floor. Eye holes had been cut in it, one corner was torn off. The paper was ripped down the center.
"That's it," she said. She struggled to a sitting position, then got to her feet.
"I saw his face." She swayed. The red-headed woman stretched out a muscular arm just a second too late. The girl pitched forward, throwing her hands in front of her. The palms rested against the diamond-shaped plate glass panel of the outer door. The redheaded woman shifted her grip, picked the younger woman up as though she had been a doll, and laid her back on the couch.
"Oh, my God," moaned the young woman.